Saturday, February 23, 2008

What We Have Wrought In Iraq


A Life

Amy Goodman:
Nearing 87 years old, Yuri Kochiyama lives in a small room in an Oakland, Calif., senior living facility. Her walls are adorned with photos, posters, postcards and mementos detailing a living history of the revolutionary struggles of the 20th century. She is quiet, humble and small, and has trouble at times retrieving the right word. Yet, with a sparkle in her eyes, she has no trouble recalling that incredible history--not from books, not from documentaries, but from living it, on the front lines.

February marks a coincidence of anniversaries in Kochiyama’s incredible life: 66 years ago, on Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the mass internment of Japanese-Americans. Then there is Feb. 21, 1965, the day Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City.

Kochiyama was a young woman living with her parents in San Pedro, Calif., when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Within hours, her father was arrested by the FBI. She recalled:

“[The FBI agents] said, ‘Is there a Seichi Nakahara living here?’ I said, ‘He just came home from ulcer surgery.’ And they went in and got him—it was done so quickly, it didn’t even take a half of a minute, I don’t think. And I didn’t dare ask a question. They were going out the door immediately. And then, I just called my mother, who was right down the street to say, ‘Come home quick. The FBI just came and took Pop.’ ”

He was taken to the San Pedro Hospital, where U.S. sailors and Marines who had been injured in the Japanese attacks were also being treated. Kochiyama’s father was the only person of Japanese descent in the hospital. They put him in a bed behind a sheet marked “Prisoner of War.” Kochiyama recalled what her mother said: “When she saw the reaction of all the American [patients] who were just brought in from Wake Island, she didn’t think he was going to last. And so, she asked the head of that hospital, could he be given a room by himself, and then when he was feeling better, could they take him ... to the prison, because that hospital, she said, was probably worse than prison, because here were all these Americans who had been injured.”

He was released six weeks later, returned home in a state of extreme illness. Kochiyama recalls: “He came home, it was around dinnertime, 5:30. And they had a nurse come with him. And by the next morning, she woke us up and said, ‘He’s gone.’ ” Her father had died.

Yuri and the rest of her family were rounded up and sent to Rohwer Camp in Arkansas as part of the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans. Nearly 70,000 of them were U.S. citizens. She spent more than two years imprisoned there. She married after her release, and she and her family eventually moved to Harlem, N.Y.

Yuri was a changed woman. Her experience made her aware of the lack of justice suffered not only by Asian-Americans, but by African-Americans and Latinos as well. She met Malcolm X in 1963. They became friends and allies. He sent her postcards from his transformative trip to Africa. She was in the audience at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem when he was shot.

She ran up onto the stage: “Malcolm had fallen straight back, and he was on his back. And so I just went there and picked up his head and just put it on my lap. People ask, ‘What did he say?’ He didn’t say anything. He was just having a difficult time breathing. I said, ‘Please, Malcolm, please, Malcolm, stay alive.’ But he was hit so many times.”

Malcolm X’s assassination propelled Kochiyama further into a life committed to the struggle for social justice, human rights, racial equality and prisoner rights. She is a staunch supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has lived on death row in Pennsylvania for a quarter of a century.

As the Bush administration asserts its authority to detain “enemy combatants” without charge, and zealots in Congress hatch plans to round up 12 million people accused of being “illegal aliens” (100 times the number of Japanese-Americans interned), we all have timely lessons to learn from Yuri Kochiyama.

The Huck's (Other) Nicknames


1. Huck

2. Two Buck Huck

3. Sucka-bee

4. Huckaboom

5. Huckleberry Thin

6. Huckleberry Hound

7. Huck-a-behave

8. Daddy

9. The Biggest Loser

10. Huckmaster General

11. Mitt's Master Mike

12. The Honorable Governor Michael Dale Huckabee

13. Guv'nor

14. Mother Hucker

15. Princess

16. Huck Wild

17. Con the Baptist

18. Sir Hucksalot

19. Huckazoom

20. That Guy Who Pardoned That Rapist Who Immediately Went Out and Raped Like Five People

21. Huck-stop

22. Good Luck Huck

23. Mrs. Chuck Norris

24. Huck the Hick

25. Yippie Ka-Yay Mother Hucker

26. Mike Check

27. The Huckster

28. Huck Up

29. Huck and Cover

30. Huck Me in the Ass and Call Me Sally

31. A Man Called Huck

32. The Thin Man

33. Huckabuck

34. Inner Fattie

35. Lady Huck

36. Lucky Huck

37. Double-Wide

38. The Dog Killer's Daddy

39. Huckapoo

40. Mr. Jesus

41. The Footwashing Candidate

42. The Trailer Park Fairy Tale

43. Arkansas Slim

44. The Marathon Man

45. Huck-Huck Goose

46. The Fightin' Fundamentalist

47. Karl Rove's Karma

48. The Squirrel Eaters' Candidate

49. The Bouncing Baptist

50. Huck on You

The Huck's (Other

Check This Out

I once took an introductory flying lesson and was amazed that I landed the plane. I was and remain amazed how a plane can be placed right there, at the end of a unway, not overshooting it nor crashing into the ground.

Then you see this and it's min-boggling scary.....

Who Loves The Saint?

Via Raw Story:
As John McCain's reputation as a family man and a politician with a clean ethical record came under attack on Thursday, one man's voice was heard most loudly: top political adviser Charles R. Black, Jr..

"We’re going to go to war with them now,” Black bluntly told the Politico on Thursday, referring to the New York Times.

Black was front and center in several media accounts about the Times' allegations regarding McCain's relationship with lobbyist Vicky Iseman, assailing the paper for lowering its standards and "smearing" the senator.

For Black, it must have seemed like just another day at the office. The lobbying firm he leads, BKSH & Associates, is a specialist in helping its corporate clients put out fires in Washington. And for the second time in this election season, Black was connected to a major campaign-related controversy. The last time, his firm helped prepare private military contractor giant Blackwater Worldwide for a congressional probe of the killing of 17 civilians by its guards in Baghdad.

In the process of coaching Blackwater, BKSH inadvertently drew Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign into a lengthy controversy over the private career of its top political strategist, Mark Penn. In addition to guiding Clinton's campaign, Penn heads up Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations company with many clients whose interests often seem to clash with a variety of Democratic political goals. BKSH is a subsidiary of Penn's firm.

A former BKSH employee, Robert Tappan, had brought Blackwater to BKSH as a client. The ex-State Department official has since left Black's firm, and Blackwater is no longer a client. Still, the Times' revelations on Thursday are likely to focus more attention on the clients and company that McCain supporters like Black have been known to keep.

It's not clear whether Black's firm's work for Blackwater has had any effect on Senator McCain's policy positions relating to the use of private military contractors. Black would insist it has not.

"I not only do not lobby him [McCain], but if an issue comes up that I have a client on, I will tell him that and stay out of the discussion," he told the Washington Post on Friday.

Still, although McCain is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, he has not been particularly vocal on the use of rented security personnel in Iraq and other locations around the world.

When Blackwater has come up, McCain has not addressed the issue directly. In an October appearance on CNN when the company's role in Iraq was being most deeply probed, McCain would only say that the failure of President Bush and ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to deploy enough troops in Iraq had made the use of contractors necessary.

Independent of Black, it's possible that McCain has developed some grudging respect for the private security contractors the US employs in Iraq. The senator has made many visits to the war-torn country, and congressional delegations are often guarded by contractors like Blackwater.

During the fall 2007 House hearings, Republican congress members praised the company for having a perfect protection record in the country.

"Blackwater has protected dozens if not hundreds of members of Congress, including myself and members of this committee, when they travel to Afghanistan and Iraq," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) in an October hearing of the House Oversight Committee. "I for one am grateful for their services. Not one single member of Congress has been injured nor killed under Blackwater protection, and for that I am grateful."

The Saint Of Honesty

Of course, screwing a lobbyist to whom he isn't married is not just essentially unproveable, but it's really besides the point. (And it's old news that he was doing the woman who became his current wife while married to his first wife.)

The point, for the abuse or the delusional wingnut, is this:
In late 1998, Senator John McCain sent an unusually blunt letter to the head of the Federal Communications Commission, warning that he would try to overhaul the agency if it closed a broadcast ownership loophole.

The letter, and two later ones signed by Mr. McCain, then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, urged the commission to abandon plans to close a loophole vitally important to Glencairn Ltd., a client of Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist. The provision enabled one of the nation’s largest broadcasting companies, Sinclair, to use a marketing agreement with Glencairn, a far smaller broadcaster, to get around a restriction barring single ownership of two television stations in the same city.

At a news conference on Thursday, Mr. McCain denounced an article in The New York Times that described concerns by top advisers a decade ago about his ties to Ms. Iseman, a partner at the firm Alcalde & Fay. He said he never had any discussions with his advisers about Ms. Iseman and never did any favors for any lobbyist.

One of the McCain campaign’s statements about his dealings with Ms. Iseman was challenged by news accounts on Friday. In discussing letters he wrote regulators about a deal involving another of Ms. Iseman’s clients, Lowell W. Paxson, the campaign had said the senator had never spoken to her or anyone from the company. But Mr. McCain acknowledged in a 2002 deposition that he had sent the letters after meeting with Mr. Paxson.

On Glencairn, the campaign said Mr. McCain’s efforts to retain the loophole were not done at Ms. Iseman’s request. It said Mr. McCain was merely directing the commission to “not act in a manner contradictory to Congressional intent.” Mr. McCain wrote in the letters that a 1996 law, the telecommunications act, required the loophole; a legal opinion by the staff of the commission took the opposite view.

A review of the record, including agency records now at the National Archives and interviews with participants, shows that Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, played a significant role in killing the plan to eliminate the loophole. His actions followed requests by Ms. Iseman and lobbyists at other broadcasting companies, according to lobbying records and Congressional aides.

Something I don't Understand But Is Mildly Diverting And Amusing For A Few Moments

Go here and keep hitting reload.

Image Of The Day

At the end of the day, this will outlive the Cuban revolution, okay? And certainly Election 2008. And even the wingnuts destroying our nation.

Link. And the explanation of the image.

Our Freedom Loving Allies, In This Case, One From Our Leaders Take Orders

Human Rights Watch has appealed to Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a woman convicted of witchcraft.
In a letter to King Abdullah, the rights group described the trial and conviction of Fawza Falih as a miscarriage of justice.

The illiterate woman was detained by religious police in 2005 and allegedly beaten and forced to fingerprint a confession that she could not read.

Among her accusers was a man who alleged she made him impotent.

Human Rights Watch said that Ms Falih had exhausted all her chances of appealing against her death sentence and she could only now be saved if King Abdullah intervened.

'Undefined' crime

The US-based group is asking the Saudi ruler to void Ms Falih's conviction and to bring charges against the religious police who detained her and are alleged to have mistreated her.

Its letter to King Abdullah says the woman was tried for the undefined crime of witchcraft and that her conviction was on the basis of the written statements of witnesses who said that she had bewitched them.

Human Rights Watch says the trial failed to meet the safeguards in the Saudi justice system.

The confession which the defendant was forced to fingerprint was not even read out to her, the group says.

Also Ms Falih and her representatives were not allowed to attend most of the hearings.

When an appeal court decided she should not be executed, the law courts imposed the death sentence again, arguing that it would be in the public interest.

RIAA Training Film

A clip:

(And more about it.)

Download the whole damn thing -- as a torrent (how else?).

Entertainment, After A Fashion


The day after: the streets are suspiciously clean. The local government has taken care to obscure the shame of the rioting, because obviously, it has echoed around the world and Serbia is once again the leading news in the foreign press.

The Serbs, with their legitimate right to mourn for the loss of Kosovo, were transformed into vandals who loot their own city. They broke into many foreign shops, stealing off with the foreign branded goods, made by those powers which gave away Kosovo. It's a greedily practical turn to the famous "inat" and spiteful defiance that Serbs generally offer the world community.

Images and footage of the broken windows, burned flags, demolished embassies, and drunken teenage patriots is cruising the world on YouTube. Our newly elected president, who wisely and rather obviously retreated to Rumania during the ruckus, asked for decent behavior and peace last night.

Other participants of the rally have no such regrets. The truest "heroines" of this charade are two young blondes filmed by candid camera and posted on YouTube in a long snippet called "Kosovo for tennis shoes."

These wannabe global consumers are relentlessly looting sports clothes from broken windows and dragging them in heaps through a town in chaos.

I am not surprised, although the spectacle of aggressive teenage girls seizing loot at "total discount" while coordinating on their cellphones is like my worst fears came true.

And not only mine. Today on the streets I saw the worried faces of local people who survived the night of the "popular rally" in deep anxiety. Some other young girls -- they obviously didn’t loot for shoes -- were talking in low voices: there were not enough police. We are done.

The American embassy evacuated much of its personnel, the German, Slovenian, and Croatian embassies closed today their consulate departments.

No visas for bad Serbs, who shun the world to be swiftly shunned in turn. Police have arrested 190 people. The impressive damage to the town is still being estimated: burned cars, destroyed traffic lights, burned apartments, smashed shops. Five hundred people were hurt, mostly Serbian riot policemen. One Czech citizen is in critical condition.

Last night during the escalating violence my friends from Italy, Norway and Kosovo phoned me: Nora from Kosovo offered me her own home if I don’t feel safe within Belgrade. Nora admitted that it sounded nonsensical, but it was a sincere offer.

One group of dissident Serbian students from Belgrade wanted to join in solidarity with students in Kosovo for a Kosovo rally. The peacemakers weren't allowed into Kosovo, though, being "potential troublemakers."

There is one known fatality: a severely burned body was found inside the vandalized American embassy. He has no name, no face and is probably a Serbian hooligan overwhelmed by his own arson. The latest victim of a lethal myth.

See How Texas Loves Free Elections

Micro$oft's Latest Lie

Typical: the rightwing response to being caught is always to try and lie, never to admit to the crime. Then the rightists claim that it's the liberals who are dishonest and corrupt and so on.

Anyway, M$ shows that it isn't just a pandering pol like The Saint who refuses to be honest.

The Saint Of Lies: The Long Version

Caught lying then fights it by lying some more. Not a great tactic when you can be proven to be lying.

And remember, kids, a McCain administration would not be of any good for our nation!

WaPo has the full story (or a big part of it):
For years, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has railed against lobbyists and the influence of "special interests" in Washington, touting on his campaign Web site his fight against "the 'revolving door' by which lawmakers and other influential officials leave their posts and become lobbyists for the special interests they have aided."

But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O' Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.

McCain's relationship with lobbyists became an issue this week after it was reported that his aides asked Vicki Iseman, a telecom lobbyist, to distance herself from his 2000 presidential campaign because it would threaten McCain's reputation for independence. An angry and defiant McCain denounced the stories yesterday, declaring: "At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust."

Even before McCain finished his news conference, uber-lobbyist Black made the rounds of television networks to defend McCain against charges that he has been tainted by his relationship with a lobbyist. Black's current clients include General Motors, United Technologies, JPMorgan and AT&T.

Black said he is still being paid by his firm and does work for clients in his "spare time," recusing himself from lobbying McCain: "I not only do not lobby him [McCain], but if an issue comes up that I have a client on, I will tell him that and stay out of the discussion."

A common career path for political operatives is a lucrative job at a Washington lobbying firm that allows them to continue campaign work, and McCain is hardly the first candidate to draw on that talent pool. The campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has been aided by lobbyists Harold Ickes and Mark Penn, who heads Burson Marsteller Worldwide. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been advised by former senator Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), who is not a registered lobbyist but advises clients about Washington.

In McCain's case, the fact that lobbyists are essentially running his presidential campaign -- most of them as volunteers -- seems to some people to be at odds with his anti-lobbying rhetoric. "He has a closer relationship with lobbyists than he lets on," said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "The problem for McCain being so closely associated with lobbyists is that he's the candidate most closely associated with attacking lobbyists."

Davis did not respond to requests for an interview. Black, acting as a campaign spokesman, said that Davis is being paid neither by his firm nor by the McCain campaign, and has not been a registered lobbyist for three years.

Schmidt and McKinnon said they remain with their firms, but are not lobbyists and have recused themselves from the issues of their clients in the McCain campaign. "I've never discussed a client issue with the candidate or his staff," McKinnon said in an e-mail.

Campaign finance experts said employees of a company are allowed to volunteer for a campaign as long as they do so on their own time, or continue to perform the functions for which their employers are paying them.

McCain's reliance on lobbyists for key jobs -- both in the Senate and in his presidential campaign -- extends beyond his inner circle. McCain recently hired Mark Buse to be his Senate chief of staff. Buse led the Commerce Committee staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and was until last fall a lobbyist for ML Strategies, representing eBay, Goldman Sachs Group, Cablevision, Tenneco and Novartis Pharmaceuticals.

McCain's top fundraising official is former congressman Tom Loeffler (R-Tex.), who heads a lobbying law firm called the Loeffler Group. He has counseled the Saudis as well as Southwest Airlines, AT&T, Toyota and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Public Citizen, a group that monitors campaign fundraising, has found that McCain has more bundlers -- people who gather checks from networks of friends and associates -- from the lobbying community than any other presidential candidate from either party.

By the group's current count, McCain has at least 59 federal lobbyists raising money for his campaign, compared with 33 working for Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani and 19 working for Democrat Clinton.

"The potential harm is that should Senator McCain become elected, those people will have a very close relationship with the McCain White House," Sloan said. "[That] would be very helpful for their clients, and that would give them a leg up on everybody else."

Of all the lobbyists involved in the McCain campaign, the most prominent is Black, who has made a lucrative career of shuttling back and forth between presidential politics and big-time Washington lobbying. He has worked for the campaigns of former congressman Jack Kemp (N.Y.), former president George H.W. Bush and former senators Phil Gramm (Tex.) and Robert J. Dole (Kan.), all Republicans.

"I've spent a fair amount of my life as a lobbyist, but I've spent a majority of my adult life running Republican political campaigns," Black, 60, said.

His relationship with McCain, for whom he is a senior adviser, goes back more than two decades, from the time McCain first came to Washington. They got to know each other well during Gramm's 1996 presidential run; Gramm, now an investment banker, is a major supporter and adviser to McCain.

But even as Black provides a private voice and a public face for McCain, he also leads his lobbying firm, which offers corporate interests and foreign governments the promise of access to the most powerful lawmakers. Some of those companies have interests before the Senate and, in particular, the Commerce Committee, of which McCain is a member.

Black said he does a lot of his work by telephone from McCain's Straight Talk Express bus.

He said, however, the combination now requires that he work on weekends, which means 80- or even 90-hour weeks. If McCain were to ask him to step up his commitment to the campaign during the general-election battle, Black said he would take a leave or a reduced salary from BKSH and devote himself to electing McCain president.

McCain has long sought to defend his associations with lobbyists, stressing that friendships with them do not influence his independent judgment when it comes to legislative action. In comments to reporters yesterday, he acknowledged those friendships.

"I have many friends who represent various interests, ranging from the firemen to the police to senior citizens to various interests, particularly before my committee," McCain said. "The question is . . . do they have excess or unwarranted influence? And certainly no one ever has in my conduct of my public life and conduct of my legislative agenda."

The Saint Of Lies: Caught Lying!

Okay, I'm shocked, just shocked.

Wednesday night and Thursday, John McCain's campaign pushed back -- hard -- against a New York Times story suggesting that McCain might have had a romantic relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman and worked for special treatment for her and her clients. As part of the McCain camp's pushback, it issued a sweeping denial of the Times story and many of the facts contained therein. One of the elements of that denial, though, now appears to be false.

One of the facts the McCain camp challenged regarded two letters McCain sent to the Federal Communications Commission, asking it to decide a question important to Paxson Communications, one of Iseman's clients. In a statement, the McCain campaign said, "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay [Iseman's employer] personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC."

But Newsweek's Michael Isikoff -- who had been reported to have been chasing the Iseman story after initial rumors came out on the Drudge Report, and who was an early reporter on the Monica Lewinsky scandal -- says he has proof that what the McCain campaign said isn't true. And he's pretty convincing. Isikoff obtained a copy of a deposition McCain gave in 2002, during a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance statute McCain cosponsored. During that deposition, he said, "I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue ... He wanted [the FCC's] approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint."

In his article, Isikoff provides the response of the McCain campaign to his reporting, from a McCain spokeswoman: "We do not think there is a contradiction here. We do not have the transcript you excerpted and do not know the exact questions Senator McCain was asked, but it appears that Senator McCain, when speaking of being contacted by Paxson, was speaking in shorthand of his staff being contacted by representatives of Paxson. Senator McCain does not recall being asked directly by Paxson or any representative of him or by Alcalde & Fay to contact the FCC."

But, as Isikoff points out, in the deposition McCain was pretty clear about what he means when he says Paxon contacted him, and it doesn't appear to be shorthand. Under questioning by plaintiff's attorney Floyd Abrams, McCain and Abrams had the following exchange:

Abrams: Did you speak to the company's lobbyist about these matters?
McCain: I don't recall if it was Mr. Paxson or the company's lobbyist or both.

Abrams: But you did speak to him?

McCain: I'm sure I spoke with him, yes.

And the full story is here.

Howard Dean Speaks About The Saint Of Lies

Friend --

It's like 1989 all over again -- John McCain has been caught in yet another ethics scandal.

If you had a TV on yesterday, you saw who jumped to his defense -- the team of lobbyists who work for him, led by campaign manager and lobbyist Rick Davis, and the well-oiled right-wing noise machine, led by Rush Limbaugh. In an ironic message to McCain supporters yesterday, lobbyist Davis wrote ... [John McCain] has led the charge to limit the money and influence of the special interests in politics and stomp out corruption. They spent the day breathlessly assailing the New York Times as "liberal," ignoring the ethics lapses the team of reporters had uncovered. The fact is, John McCain is facing legitimate questions about lobbyists, favors, and campaign contributions, just as he did during the Keating Five scandal that nearly derailed his political career twenty years ago.

Seeing more dollar signs, the McCain campaign and the RNC decided to jump at the chance to take advantage of the distraction they had created to raise money. They had spent the day firing their supporters up, trying desperately to change the subject, and then they literally cashed in on it. It was textbook sleaze.

So, let's hit back.

Don't let John McCain's team of lobbyists, Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing noise machine, the RNC and their special-interest backers take advantage of John McCain's most recent ethics scandal -- it's disgusting, and we can't let them get ahead like this. They're screaming as loud as they can, and you can send a message right back.

You and I know the truth. We know that John McCain is no maverick; he's no reformer. He promises the same ethics that have defined Washington and the Republican Party for far too long.

Just read what the Washington Post had to say today about John McCain's campaign operatives ... For years, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has railed against lobbyists and the influence of "special interests" in Washington, touting on his campaign Web site his fight against "the 'revolving door' by which lawmakers and other influential officials leave their posts and become lobbyists for the special interests they have aided."

But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried.

The facts are clear: from Keating Five to today, throughout his 25 years in Washington John McCain has consistently taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from his special interest friends, flown on their corporate jets, and then turned around and tried to do favors for them. And he's surrounded himself with just the type of people he claims to fight against -- including Rick Davis, Charlie Black, and senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon.

McCain and the right-wing noise machine will do anything and say anything to win. Turning an ethics scandal into a fundraising opportunity is just the start, and exactly what you'd expect a team full of lobbyists to come up with.

Now we have to make sure that every voter in America knows it. We need your help to make sure we can take them on -- we can't afford four more years of lobbyists, corporate interests, and George Bush's Washington.

Send a message about how Washington should work. Match the McCain campaign and the RNC right now.

Thanks for hitting back,
Howard Dean

P.S. -- John McCain may try to claim that the past careers of his advisers are irrelevant, but look at this passage from today's Washington Post article about Charlie Black, McCain adviser and chairman of lobbying firm BKSH and Associates ... But even as Black provide a private voice and a public face for McCain, he also leads his lobbying firm, which offers corporate interests and foreign governments the promise of access to the most powerful lawmakers. Some of those companies have interests before the Senate and, in particular, McCain's Commerce Committee.

Black said he does a lot of his work by telephone from McCain's Straight Talk Express bus. John McCain literally has a lobbyist for "corporate interests and foreign governments" working from the "Straight Talk Express."

Where will they work from if he wins the White House?

More Lying By The Saint

Sen. John McCain is defending the private work performed by his campaign staff, many of whom earn healthy livings off the campaign trail as registered federal lobbyists. Although the so-called "maverick" Arizona lawmaker has long fought to minimize the role of special interests in electoral politics, McCain called his senior campaign staff "honorable" for their lobbying work.

"These people have honorable records, and they're honorable people, and I'm proud to have them as part of my team," he declared in Indianapolis, blaming the system and not the individuals who work within it for unduly influencing policy-making.

McCain later went on to say, "The right to represent interests or groups of Americans is a constitutional right. There are people that represent firemen, civil servants, retirees, and those people are legitimate representatives of a variety of interests in America."

Unfortunately for McCain, a review of federal records maintained by the Senate Office of Public Records show that the lobbyists at the top of the senator's campaign and senatorial staffs do not represent fire fighters, civil servants, or retirees, the legitimate causes he identified in his address on Friday.

According to the SOPR database, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) does its own lobbying, and has also employed Dutko Worldwide, McAllister and Quinn, and Valis and Keelen, LLC.

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) also does much of its own lobbying, and has at times retained Bracewell & Giuliani, CJ Strategies, Davis, Wright Tremaine, LLP, Duberstein Group, Ernst & Young, Fleishman-Hillard Goverment Relations, Innovative Federal Strategies, Mark J. Iwry, Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland, and Stewart, and Reinecke Strategic Solutions.

Finally, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) does much of its own lobby work, too, and has also paid Jefferson Government Relations and Lussier, Gregor, Vienna and Associates. At the federal level, the American Federation of Government Employees is a member of the AFL-CIO, and has been represented by mCapitol Management, and Murphy, Frazer, and Selfridge.

A report in Friday's Washington Post noted some of the lobbying firms that McCain's lieutenants are members of: Rick Davis of Davis Manafort; Charles Black at BKSH and Associates; Steve Schmidt of Mercury Public Affairs; Marc McKinnon of Public Strategic, Inc.; Mark Buse of ML Strategies; and, Tom Loeffler of the Loeffler Group.

None of these firms are in the employ of the main representatives of the causes McCain identified as having a legitimate need to lobby government: fire fighters, civil servants, and retirees. Which begs the question: if these causes are honorable, why aren't McCain's top advisers lobbying on their behalf?

And why are they instead representing large corporations, including AT&T, Verizon, JP Morgan, Land O'Lakes, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and Toyota? Does McCain think these interests are on the same plane as fire fighers, civil servants, and retirees?

Ultimately, though, McCain seems unfazed by the revolving door nature of the lobbyists who run his campaign.

"I'm proud of the record of many of my advisers. One small example, Charlie Black. Charlie Black was involved in the first Reagan campaign, and he's been involved in every national presidential campaign since," the senator said at the rally.

St. John's Flip-Flopping

What does an honorable man do when caught in a lie?

Well, St. John just lies some more.

Not beholden to lobbyists?

Let's see who supports him.
Washington lobbyists and members of Congress gathered at a popular Capitol Hill bar and restaurant last night to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, whose staff refused to disclose exactly how much was raised or by whom.

"Like most campaigns, we do not release numbers of attendees or dollars raised per event," said McCain spokesperson B.J. Boling.

While McCain did not attend the event, a copy of the invitation obtained by shows that donors who paid between $1,000 and $2,300 were invited to rub elbows with some of the 32 members of Congress supporting McCain for a reception at the Charlie Palmer Steakhouse. Donors who raised at least $10,000 were designated co-chairmen for the event and were treated to a "VIP Roundtable" before the main reception. The invitation lists 24 lobbyists as "co-chairman" for the event. The lobbyists represent a range of industries, including the finance, telecommunications, technology and healthcare sectors.

McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates, according to the latest finding from government watchdog group Public Citizen. The group, which advocates for public financing of elections, has identified more than 2,300 well-connected individuals, known as "bundlers," who have solicited contributions from friends and associates on behalf of a presidential candidate.

McCain is known as a champion of campaign finance reform. His campaign Web site touts the senator's credentials as a reformer, stating that he has fought for "greater transparency regarding the official activities of lobbyists" and the "disclosure of how candidates and campaigns are funded."

When it comes to disclosing how much lobbyists are raising for his presidential campaign, however, the group found that McCain has fallen short, even by standards set by the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign which voluntarily disclosed on its Web site the names of bundlers who raised at least $100,000 and $200,000.

"As far as transparency goes, they all have to do better, including McCain," said Taylor Lincoln, who directs the project for Public Citizen. Lincoln says that Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the only presidential candidates who have disclosed the minimum amount their bundlers are raising.

"Everyone knows that John McCain is someone who has always stood on principle, taking stances against special interests," responded Boling when asked whether the campaign would provide more disclosure. "Individuals who support John McCain do so because they believe he's the right man at the right time to lead as our next president. Our donations are fully disclosed with the FEC and we have a complete list of our finance committee on our Web site."
Link. (Emphasis added.)

Hey! Let's watch him lie!

(More of the same are here.)

Back to the scum by whom he is willingly supported -- his designated liars, I mean. Raw Story:
As John McCain's reputation as a family man and a politician with a clean ethical record came under attack on Thursday, one man's voice was heard most loudly: top political adviser Charles R. Black, Jr..

"We’re going to go to war with them now,” Black bluntly told the Politico on Thursday, referring to the New York Times.

Black was front and center in several media accounts about the Times' allegations regarding McCain's relationship with lobbyist Vicky Iseman, assailing the paper for lowering its standards and "smearing" the senator.

For Black, it must have seemed like just another day at the office. The lobbying firm he leads, BKSH & Associates, is a specialist in helping its corporate clients put out fires in Washington. And for the second time in this election season, Black was connected to a major campaign-related controversy. The last time, his firm helped prepare private military contractor giant Blackwater Worldwide for a congressional probe of the killing of 17 civilians by its guards in Baghdad.

In the process of coaching Blackwater, BKSH inadvertently drew Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign into a lengthy controversy over the private career of its top political strategist, Mark Penn. In addition to guiding Clinton's campaign, Penn heads up Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations company with many clients whose interests often seem to clash with a variety of Democratic political goals. BKSH is a subsidiary of Penn's firm.

A former BKSH employee, Robert Tappan, had brought Blackwater to BKSH as a client. The ex-State Department official has since left Black's firm, and Blackwater is no longer a client. Still, the Times' revelations on Thursday are likely to focus more attention on the clients and company that McCain supporters like Black have been known to keep.

It's not clear whether Black's firm's work for Blackwater has had any effect on Senator McCain's policy positions relating to the use of private military contractors. Black would insist it has not.

"I not only do not lobby him [McCain], but if an issue comes up that I have a client on, I will tell him that and stay out of the discussion," he told the Washington Post on Friday.

Still, although McCain is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, he has not been particularly vocal on the use of rented security personnel in Iraq and other locations around the world.

When Blackwater has come up, McCain has not addressed the issue directly. In an October appearance on CNN when the company's role in Iraq was being most deeply probed, McCain would only say that the failure of President Bush and ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to deploy enough troops in Iraq had made the use of contractors necessary.

Independent of Black, it's possible that McCain has developed some grudging respect for the private security contractors the US employs in Iraq. The senator has made many visits to the war-torn country, and congressional delegations are often guarded by contractors like Blackwater.

During the fall 2007 House hearings, Republican congress members praised the company for having a perfect protection record in the country.

"Blackwater has protected dozens if not hundreds of members of Congress, including myself and members of this committee, when they travel to Afghanistan and Iraq," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) in an October hearing of the House Oversight Committee. "I for one am grateful for their services. Not one single member of Congress has been injured nor killed under Blackwater protection, and for that I am grateful."

Lying Flip-Flopper Johnny Mac Exposed!

And send a pointless message to St. John.

A lot more to follow on this St. John-day.

A Proposal

Let Johnny Mac have the nomination but at the price of no reference from no one that he's any sort of straight talker. All of those references instead must be changed to "lying, pandering flip-flopper".

That's fair.

And honest.

It's straight talk.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Message From Our Ally, Russia?

A border conflict in the Balkans, yet again, is inflaming nationalist passions and dividing the world's major powers.

In a scene reminiscent of past flareups, Serbian anger over the province of Kosovo's declaration of independence spilled into violence in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. The protests, in which a mob ransacked parts of the U.S. embassy, illustrate the perils of the U.S.-led bid to redraw the borders of one of Europe's most unsettled corners.

Associated Press
More than 150,000 Serbs rallied against Kosovo's declaration of independence. Masked rioters set fire to the U.S. embassy.
American and European diplomats said they were alarmed by the violence and worried that the Serbian government might stoke ethnic passions in Kosovo. Yet Western officials also said there was still good reason to believe the unrest won't spark another spasm of armed conflict.

An estimated 150,000 Serbs waving their nation's flag and shouting "Kosovo is ours" clashed with police in Belgrade, part of massive protests against Kosovo's Sunday secession. Several hundred then marched on the U.S. embassy, briefly setting fire to several rooms and tearing down a flag.

After the brutal wars of the 1990s that led to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, diplomats weren't surprised at the angry popular response. Most Serbs consider Kosovo their historic heartland, and it's home to revered sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The question is whether the violence increases in ways that could either jeopardize the existing and wobbly Serbian government or spill over into parts of Kosovo.

Most analysts thought that unlikely. Much has changed since the bloodshed of the 1990s, including a more moderate Serbian government and the presence of thousands of North Atlantic Treaty Organization peacekeeping troops in Kosovo.

"For the moment this is basically blowing off steam," said James Dobbins, a former U.S. envoy to Kosovo. "The real alarm point would be any sign of large Serbian paramilitary infiltrations into Kosovo, which I think are unlikely."

Yet the attacks underscored the risks of trying to change borders in the Balkans. Kosovo's secession has pitted the U.S. against Russia, adding fuel to anti-Western rhetoric in Moscow just days before Russia's presidential election. Moscow opposes Kosovo's independence, in part because of fears over separatist movements within Russia. Moscow strongly supports Serbia, a traditional ally.

Kosovo's independence bid also has split the European Union. Seventeen of its 27 member countries have recognized Kosovo's independence. Others, including Cyprus, Slovakia, Romania and Spain, called it illegal.

The protesters in Belgrade also attacked the Croatian, Turkish and Belgian embassies -- targets freighted with Balkan history. Croatia is a neighbor and historic foe. Turkey supports Kosovo's mainly Muslim ethnic Albanian majority, and the Turkish-based Ottoman empire occupied Serbia for centuries. Belgium is the seat of the EU, which is sending a law-and-order mission of roughly 2,000 to Kosovo.

Bush administration officials registered strong protests with Serbia over the embassy ransacking but said Serbia had responded by sealing off the building. The U.S. said it plans to seek a United Nations statement condemning the assault.

The Western architects of Kosovo's independence bid say there are many reasons to believe that Serbian anger can be contained, avoiding any renewal of the ethnic cleansing that marked the wars in Bosnia and Croatia.

Serb President Boris Tadic was re-elected last month against a nationalist opponent, on a promise to keep his country on a path to membership in the EU. In recent days he has repeated that pledge, and committed to resolving Serbia's claim to Kosovo peacefully.

Richard Holbrooke, a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the Clinton administration, said that if there is violence in the northern areas of Kosovo where ethnic Serbs are a majority, NATO should "take firm action. I hope NATO sends more troops now [rather than] wait until it is too late." However, others cautioned against taking steps that might provoke either the Serbian government or radical elements in the Serbian community. Ivo Daalder, a former Clinton White House official who worked on Balkan issues, said, "To add troops now could amount to throwing fuel to the fire."

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders have strived to keep tempers calm. Kosovo's state television played down images of Serbs burning border posts, apparently trying not to risk violence that would damage the bid for international recognition. The first attacks on border posts came Tuesday. Yesterday, some 300 former army reservists again attacked a Kosovo border post, throwing stones at Kosovar police and NATO troops.

Real trouble, said some analysts and diplomats, would be likely only if there was a backlash against exposed Serbian enclaves in the south of Kosovo. And worst of all would be any ethnic Albanian attempt to take over authorities in Mitrovica, an ethnically divided town in northern Kosovo. That could prompt a military response from Belgrade.

Within the Serbian government, Mr. Tadic is opposed by a nationalist and pro-Russian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica. Anger in Serbia could boil over on the familiar issue of protecting Serbs who live in a breakaway neighboring state.

Kosovo's population of two million is more than 90% ethnic Albanian. About half of the remaining 10% are ethnic Serbs. Many are concentrated in northern Kosovo, bordering Serbia, which is where most clashes with international peacekeepers have taken place.

"Throughout the negotiations for a final status in Kosovo, everybody knew it would be partitioned, but because nobody had the guts to say it, we are watching it happen on the ground now," said Misha Glenny, a veteran observer of the region and author of a history of the Balkans.

Serbia effectively lost Kosovo in 1999, when Serb forces retreated in the face of a NATO bombing campaign after former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's failed attempt to purge the territory of ethnic Albanians. The territory has been under international administration since, though still as a province of Serbia. The Serb-dominated area north of Mitrovica has been run from Belgrade since 1999, with schools and other services provided by Serbian authorities.

Kosovo's leaders have made clear they won't accept a formal partition of their new country. President Fatmir Sejdiu said Thursday he was counting on NATO to secure Kosovo's borders, the Associated Press reported. Yet Kosovo's leaders have long since accepted that a temporary, de facto partition is all but inevitable, according to Alexander Anderson, the Pristina-based Kosovo Project Director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels think tank.

"The Albanians have already discounted rebellious behavior in the North and have internalized that Kosovo institutions in the north probably won't survive," said Mr. Anderson.

Serbia's pro-Western economy minister, Mladjan Dinkic, visited Mitrovica on Wednesday, where he said Serbia wouldn't tolerate customs posts on the border. "I think we must do all we can to establish economic sovereignty in those parts of Kosovo...where Serbs live," he said, Serbia's Beta news agency reported.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians also have militant elements difficult to control. In that context, any violent reaction could quickly spin out of control, according to Mr. Anderson. Kosovo's leaders "are prepared to accept a lot, but not de jure separation" for the Mitrovica area. He added that the situation puts enormous responsibility on NATO and EU forces to stay in Serbian areas, protect pockets of ethnic Albanians and keep up a formal separation from Belgrade.

The Utter And Complete Failure Of Beloved Leader's Policies; What Johnny Mac Wants To Continue

When Cuban leader Fidel Castro officially stepped aside Tuesday and handed power over to his brother, an extraordinary opportunity arose to inject a dose of rationality into U.S. relations with that tortured island. Will the Bush administration seize the day? A look at its foreign policy record so far can only lead to one conclusion: not a snowball’s chance in Havana.

Take a look around the world and see if you can find one area of the world where the Bush administration’s policies have been successful. Just this week in Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf—who the Bush administration has embraced as a cornerstone of its anti-terrorism policy—was repudiated and weakened by Pakistani voters. Castro stepped aside, not involuntarily or under the weight of a U.S. embargo, but peacefully, and while preserving his family’s dictatorial rule over Cuba.

The president was meanwhile traveling around Africa, where he likes to claim success, but it’s hard to see how or where. Genocide in Darfur continues and much of the Horn of Africa is approaching a crisis point, but Bush is at least viewed relatively favorably on the continent. He has invested a good deal of aid money there, even if some of it comes with abstinence-education-only qualification that makes it useless, and even if much of it was simply lifted from other parts of the aid budget, robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it were. But if Africa is not a complete catastrophe for the Bush foreign policy, it may be the only place on Earth where one can say as much. Take a look and see if you agree:

Iraq: The occupation of Iraq is obviously a crucial benchmark to consider, as it established the central ideological notion of the Bush Doctrine: The invasion asserted that the United States can act unilaterally, pre-emptively, and with military force to preserve its interests. Even noted Iraq cheerleader William Kristol has said that Bush needs to win Iraq in order to be viewed as a successful president. Even a simple enumeration of the administration’s various failures would take up more time than you, dear reader, have to read this piece. Let’s just say that if anyone had warned either Congress or the American people of what lay in store for them, it’s hardly imaginable that Bush would have received the approval he did, even based as it was on false claims in virtually every respect. Now in its sixth year, casualties mount, and there is little to no political progress in Baghdad; the critical issue of how Iraqi oil revenues will be shared, for example, is at an impasse with no end in sight.

Iran: Famously identified by the president as a founding member of the axis-of-evil during his first term, Iran has become more of a problem ever since. The administration’s strategy of isolating the regime through tough talk and thinly veiled threats has failed. Sunni Arab states aren’t confronting Shi’a Iran, as Bush had hoped, but rather cozying up to it, partly because of the U.S. hard-line approach, according to Mohamad Bazzi of the Council on Foreign Relations. When President Bush visited the Middle East recently to round up support for his hard-line policies towards Iran, the Arab News, a Saudi paper that often reflects the government’s position, wrote that “in his confrontational remarks about Iran, he offers no carrot, no inducement, no compromise—only the big U.S. stick. This is not diplomacy in search of peace. It is madness in search of war.” Needless to say, the country hasn’t aligned itself with our current strategy.

Afghanistan: This week also saw the deadliest bombing in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and violence is on the rise. The country has never been completely stable since the U.S.-led invasion, and the prospects for military victory there are beginning to appear shakier. Experts like Juan Cole of the University of Michigan are now beginning to question “whether Pushtuns in the country’s south are ever going to put up with a foreign military occupation of their territory.”

Israel and Palestine: First there was the “roadmap to peace”; a road that, alas, went nowhere. Next came Hamas’s election victory and the administration’s refusal to recognize or have a dialogue with the new government or recognize the results of the democratic election it demanded. The administration then re-launched its alleged “roadmap” strategy in November at a conference in Annapolis, but talks have been slow and Palestinian officials call Bush’s plan “not realistic." He could not even convince the U.S.-underwritten Iraqi government to attend.

Pakistan: We noted above that President Musharraf’s repudiation in this week’s elections, in the wake of the still murky assassination of Benazir Bhutto, puts a real dent in a strategy that terms this strongman “indispensable.” The United States has given Musharraf quite a bit of military aid—$10 billion or more—but not much in the way of economic aid. The problem with that, as William Hartung writes, is that “democracy promotion”—that is, imposed democracy—isn’t nearly as effective as “democracy support,” or giving non-military assistance to pro-democracy forces. But Musharraf is weakened and the United States, which did not plan for this eventuality, has nowhere to turn.

North Korea: The recent deal the Bush administration struck with Kim Jong-il to freeze his country’s nuclear program may actually be an area that Bush can claim success. The deal is only a first step, but it is considered by experts to be a good one. But what is important to note is that the deal was struck only after the “realists” in the Bush administration prevailed over the hard-liners. As Andrew Grotto wrote for the Center for American Progress, “For more than six years, the Bush administration has been divided between ideologues who think the best way to deal with nuclear weapons proliferation is to overthrow regimes or squeeze them into collapse, and pragmatists who think this approach backfires.” It was the realists who succeeded by having a dialogue with North Korea and ultimately securing a promise to cease nuclear production.

The lesson of North Korea is an important one—old-fashioned diplomatic engagement succeeded where the administration’s one-size-fits-all, tough-guy approach failed miserably. What one sees in looking at the failures in foreign policy these past seven years is not a remarkable string of poor implementation and bad luck, but the failure of an ideology—an ideology that asserted the United States stands alone atop a unipolar world, and that military might is the preferred solution in virtually every case. It has been a recipe for failure for our friends and victory for our foes. America may not miss this administration when it finally passes into history. But its adversaries sure will.

Lying Straight-Talker

John McCain must hope that Americans won’t read the entire New York Times story about his friendship with a female lobbyist, because if they do, they’ll realize that his statement – that he “has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists” – simply isn’t true.

Though the article focuses on the friendship between the 71-year-old Arizona senator and Vicky Iseman, an attractive 40-year-old lobbyist for telecommunications companies, it also recounts McCain’s complicated history as both a violator of congressional ethics and a champion for ethics reform.

Most memorably, McCain helped one of his early financial backers, wheeler-dealer Charles Keating, frustrate oversight from federal banking regulators who were examining Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. At Keating's urging, McCain wrote letters, introduced bills and pushed a Keating associate for a job on a banking regulatory board.

In 1987, McCain joined several other senators in two private meetings with federal banking regulators on Keating’s behalf. Two years later, Lincoln collapsed, costing the U.S. taxpayers $3.4 billion.

Keating eventually went to prison and three other senators from the so-called Keating Five saw their political careers ruined. McCain drew a Senate reprimand for his involvement and later lamented his faulty judgment. “Why didn’t I fully grasp the unusual appearance of such a meeting?” he wrote in his 2002 memoir, Worth the Fighting For.

But some people close to the case thought McCain got off too easy.

Not only was McCain taking donations from Keating and his business circle, getting free rides on Keating’s corporate jet and enjoying joint vacations in the Bahamas. McCain’s second – and current – wife, the beer fortune heiress Cindy Hensley, had invested with Keating in an Arizona shopping mall.

As the Times reported, William Black, one of the pressured banking regulators, argued that Mrs. McCain’s investment with Keating created a clear conflict of interest, although Sen. McCain said a prenuptial agreement separated his and his wife’s assets.

Black said McCain should not be able to “put this behind him.”

The Ethics Champion

But McCain did put the Keating case behind him, not only surviving his brush with scandal but incorporating it in his personal narrative as an important lesson learned, much the way George W. Bush cited his rejection of boozing and accepting Christ as turning points in his life.

McCain wowed the Washington press corps with his sponsorship of ethics legislation, such as the McCain-Feingold bill limiting “soft money” contributions to the political parties, but his self-righteousness often rubbed other politicians the wrong way.

During Campagin 2000, for instance, some Bush supporters called McCain’s lectures about ethics “sanctimonious” Others, including Bush himself, cited the hypocrisy of McCain soliciting campaign donations from corporations which did business before the Senate Commerce Committee under McCain’s control.

In 2001, McCain also helped found a non-profit organization called the Reform Institute that supposedly would advance McCain’s cause of political ethics. However, the organization drew much of its funding from companies that wanted help from McCain and the Commerce Committee.

Though denying any impropriety, McCain severed his ties to the Reform Institute in 2005 because of the “bad publicity.”

So, if American voters read the full New York Times article, they will see the story of lobbyist Vicki Iseman in the context of McCain’s conflicted attitude toward ethics and the compromising relationships that always surround power in Washington.

Both McCain and Iseman deny that their friendship was romantic in nature despite that concern among members of McCain’s staff who reportedly fretted over her frequent meetings with the senator and their use of a corporate jet owned by one of Iseman’s telecommunications clients, Lowell Paxson.

The implication of sexual impropriety surely fed McCain’s anger against the Times in a statement released by his Republican presidential campaign, accusing the newspaper of having “lowered its standards to engage in a hit-and-run smear campaign.”

The statement then goes further: “John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has never violated the public trust, never done favors for special interests or lobbyists, and he will not allow a smear campaign to distract from the issues at stake in this election.”

However, McCain’s categorical denial of "never" simply doesn’t square with the historical record.

How The RIAA Does It

See how here.

Still Tanking

At long last, the Democrats are talking about the economy and the need for serious relief and reforms. The reason is simple. The people are feeling the squeeze.

Reports the Baltimore Sun:

"Since January alone, the public's perception about the state of the economy has plummeted -- with just 17 percent calling the nation's economy excellent or good -- down from 26 percent last month. The percentage rating the economy poor has grown from 28 to 45 percent."

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama now have their instant 10-point plans and programs. They have dipped into John Edwards' tool chest for ideas on fighting poverty and listened to policy advisors who have come up with a laundry list of proposals for stop-gap measures from hikes in the minimum wage and middle-class tax cuts. All of these proposals will take time to implement and probably will be forgotten by the time one of them becomes president, if they do.

Meanwhile the economy is collapsing because of crimes and irresponsibility on Wall Street, and no one is really talking about that. An inequality gap and structural crisis compounded by profiteering in high places goes on and is largely ignored.

The media is not investigating the profiteers and, in fact, continues to contribute to the problem by accepting millions for dubious ads for more loans that end up getting more Americans in debt. Prosecutors are not prosecuting wrong doing. No fundamental new regulations and oversight are being proposed.

The candidates don't even seem to know the extent of damage that is being done by the subprime crisis and its assignees. Andrew Abraham reports:

Bank of America delivered a report last night highlighting the current losses of the "credit crisis." According to the report, the meltdown in the U.S. subprime real estate market has led to a global loss of $7.7 trillion in stock market value since October.
Quoting Bank of America's chief market strategist, Joseph Quinlan, the crisis, which has spread beyond U.S. shores to banks and other sectors worldwide, is "one of the most vicious in financial history."

That number again: $7.7 TRILLION. That phrase again: "the most vicious," that is, worse than 1929 and all the financial crises since.

Who is responsible for this, and who is being made responsible? Why aren't we talking about these massive losses and the growing debt burden? Why is this issue not on the political agenda save for the efforts of a few advocacy groups on the left and Ron Paul on the right?

It was discouraging when our government's leading critic of these practices got so discouraged that he quit last week. David Walker, the comptroller of the currency had warned back in 2005 (as reported in my film In Debt We Trust):

Continuing on this unsustainable path will gradually erode if not suddenly damage our economy, our standard of living and ultimately our national security.
And guess what? Just two years later, our economy was "suddenly damaged." The damage is "affecting our standard of living," and very few public officials or political candidates are connecting the dots. Why not?

When will we condemn the false prophets of the free market and their misguided policies? When will we indict those who cashed in on our country's misery?

Notes scholar Lionel Tiger:

Those who have been operating the managerial levers of the financial system have failed embarrassingly and massively to comprehend the processes for which they are responsible. They have loaned money avidly and recklessly to people who couldn't pay it back. They fudged data to get loans approved and recalculated. Then they sausaged fragile figments of money-reality into new "products" which could be sold around the world to investors eager to enjoy the surprising returns which often accompany theft, managerial incompetence and fraud. When it comes to responsibility for all this, there appears to be no one here but us spring chickens. Not only that, but the overseers of the bitter debacle may lose their jobs for a month but nonetheless fill their wheelbarrows with company money and "severance" when they leave to tide them over until the next corner office becomes available."
And what is to be done about this white-collar crime wave? At long last even shamed executives in the financial industry are joining those of us who long ago charged that subprime is really subcrime. Basil Williams, chief executive officer of Concordia Advisors, a hedge fund, says we need "a safety net for the innocent and a dragnet for the guilty."

Writing in the Record in Bergen County, N.J., he says that the greedy should pay to help the needy:

"The costs can be recouped by going after those who profited handsomely and unfairly from the multitude of transactions that touched the industry, including:

Mortgage brokers who originated loans to those who didn't understand the conditions, couldn't afford them and should not have qualified.
Appraisers who overvalued homes, knowing that the higher the value they gave a property, the more business they would reap from a dishonest broker.
Banks and brokerage firms that purchased, packaged and resold the mortgages for huge fees."
He goes on to discuss ratings agencies and more. This is a litany that the candidates and activists should sign on to.

With millions facing foreclosure, we have to expose those responsible and mount a movement for economic justice. It can be done. It should be done. Who is ready to stand up and organize a national mobilization to stop this outrage? Who is ready to fund it?


Johnny Mac's (*snicker!*) BFF

From her office windows, Vicki Iseman ’90 has a great view of Washington, D.C. The Indiana native is one of the youngest people in the lobbying firm of Alcalde and Fay and one of its most senior partners.

Two weeks after graduating from IUP with a degree in elementary education, Iseman joined a friend in Washington and was hired as a receptionist. With only a few months’ experience on the job, she said she “walked into my boss’s office [the president of the company] and said, ‘You don’t really know me, but I answer the phones. I’m a college graduate and I’d like you to consider me for a secretarial or an administrative position.’” He agreed to try her out for three months. Within a year she became his special assistant.

Alcalde and Fay represents clients from cruise lines and universities to airports and broadcasters. With no background in politics or telecommunications, Iseman realized she needed to know as much as possible to survive her new job. She spent most of her waking hours learning the business, and it paid off handsomely. Eight years later she became the youngest partner ever in the firm, counting among her clients PAXtv, Religious Voices in Broadcasting, Telemundo, the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, and Computer Sciences Corporation. In addition, she has met Melanie Griffith, Britney Spears, Bo Derek, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Iseman said that the most important aspect of her job is the effect that one person can have on legislation in small communities and educational institutions. “Where my heart lies is in education,” she said. “I believe it is the great equalizer.”

Still Waiting: Quote Of The Day

"Americans will always do the right thing, after they
have tried everything else."
-- Winston Churchill

Borowitz Nails Johnny Mac, The Great lover

One day after The New York Times published an article raising ethical questions about Sen. John McCain’s dealings with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, the Arizona senator pushed back today at a press conference in Cleveland, telling reporters, “Vicky Iseman did not force me into any positions.”

Calling suggestions that Ms. Iseman could make him assume a different position “ridiculous,” Sen. McCain said, “At my age, I’m not about to try out new positions that I’m uncomfortable with.”

While Mr. McCain was vague about his official dealings with Ms. Iseman, he told reporters, “I would not allow a lobbyist to perform any favor for me unless it felt really, really good.”

The Republican frontrunner said that neither he nor Ms. Iseman had been aware that The New York Times was conducting an investigation into their relationship, adding, “Vicki and I have been in the dark together for a long time.”

But he vehemently defended the lobbyist’s professionalism, telling reporters, “Vicki Iseman is an energetic and passionate woman who has bent over backwards to please me.”

Early reaction to Sen. McCain’s comments was mixed, with some Republicans wondering whether he had done himself more harm than good.

But Mr. McCain did receive high marks from at least one Senate colleague, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Id.).

“I called John today to offer him my encouragement,” Sen. Craig said. “I said, ‘It’s hard, and it’s going to get harder, but stick it out.’”

The Tanking Spreads

The global financial squeeze is spreading to investments linked to the corporate-debt market, slamming the value of contracts that provide insurance against defaults and marking one of the first times that the debt of major companies has been affected by the turmoil.

Bonds issued by major corporations have been a rare bright spot in the battered credit markets -- few investors believe these companies will go bust even if there is a serious recession.

In recent days, investors in credit-default swaps, which act as insurance policies against defaults, have grown increasingly gloomy because of worries about the global economy and the possibility of problems in the market.

The losses are tracked by several indexes, which track the cost of buying insurance on bonds issued by 125 big companies. Two of the indexes are at records and have doubled since the start of the year, meaning investors who sold this insurance suffered losses. The worry is that the indexes' moves could prove to be self-fulfilling prophecies, causing heavy losses for investors and making it even harder for people and companies to borrow money. Adding to the anxiety: Analysts can only guess at the volume of investments tied to the indexes, who is holding them and what it would take to trigger a full-scale sell-off.

"You don't know when it is going to happen; you don't know how much it is going to be," said Michael Hampden-Turner, a credit strategist at Citigroup Inc. in London. That "makes everybody really nervous."

Credit-default swap contracts have been written on the equivalent of some $43 trillion in all types of bonds, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Analysts estimate that about $6 trillion of those contracts tied to corporate bonds have been pooled into investments called synthetic collateralized-debt obligations, or CDOs, and constant-proportion debt obligations, or CPDOs, which channel the insurance payments on multiple contracts to investors.

The trouble is brewing in the market for these esoteric investments. Markit iTraxx Europe tracks the cost of insuring a basket of 125 investment-grade debt issues by European companies, including banks such as Barclays PLC, beverage company Diageo PLC, and retailer Tesco PLC. The Markit CDX North America Investment-Grade Index references the cost of insuring against default by 125 U.S. and Canadian investment-grade companies, including telecommunications company AT&T Inc., retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and fast-food operator McDonald's Corp.

As of yesterday, the annual cost of five years of insurance against default on $10 million in bonds on the CDX index had risen to $152,000 from $80,970 at the start of the year. The cost of €10 million ($14.7 million) of insurance on the iTraxx had rose to €123,750 from €51,320 at the beginning of the year.

A rise in the cost of insurance means a loss for investors who sold insurance, because the only way to get out of these investments is to buy another insurance policy to replace the policy they sold in the first place. For example, if the cost of five-year insurance on the CDX rose to $100,000 a year, an investor who had sold the insurance for $50,000 a year would have to pay an added $50,000 for five years to get out of the contract -- a loss with a present value of about $200,000.

Some investors say the indexes' sharp moves represent an unfounded anxiety that will ultimately cool. They note that corporate-bond prices haven't fallen nearly as far as the indexes have moved, suggesting that the cost of insurance doesn't reflect the actual likelihood that companies will default. In the mortgage market though, credit-default swaps preceded the problems in the market.

Even in the absence of greater defaults, the moves in the indexes can cause a great deal of havoc, triggering a downward spiral in which the forced unraveling of complex investment products drives ever-larger losses for investors and rises in the cost of insurance, which in turn could ultimately drive up borrowing costs for companies all over the world.

"It is a kind of vicious circle," said Demetrio Salorio, deputy head of debt capital markets for Société Générale in London.

Among the most vulnerable are the CPDOs, which have only been on the market two years. They offered a supposedly safe stream of income to investors by selling default protection on all of the companies in either the iTraxx or the CDX, or in some cases on a basket of financial firms that included bond insurance companies. But they had a flaw: They used borrowed money, or leverage, to increase the returns they could provide to investors -- a strategy that also magnifies losses. They also contain triggers that force them to call off their bets if losses reach a certain level, a feature that can force them to rush into the market to buy insurance just when the market is falling.

"Whether you bought without leverage or with leverage, you've been hurt," said Steve Lobb, head of credit and alternatives marketing at ABN Amro Holding NV, which sold CPDOs. "If you bought...with leverage, you've been hurt more." Still, he said, CPDOs "are not the problem in the market. They are a tiny piece of what exists out there."

Commercial-real-estate investors and Wall Street firms are finding their attention turned to a little-known credit-market index that is sending ominous signals about the outlook for their business.

The index is called the CMBX. It tracks the values of bonds backed by commercial mortgages on office buildings, hotels, malls and the like. It is signaling that the odds of distress in this business are soaring, even though actual commercial-real-estate defaults, unlike housing, still remain low.

The CMBX is one of many credit-market indexes created in the past few years that have quickly become controversial bellwethers on Wall Street. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index track the performance of stocks, the CMBX and other credit indexes track the cost of buying insurance against default on different kinds of bonds.

The CMBX is run by London-based Markit Group Ltd. Another of its credit indexes, the ABX, which tracks the riskiness of subprime mortgages, showed soaring odds of mortgage defaults last year as the housing crisis was about to intensify.

Critics of these indexes say they might be exaggerating the amount of distress in both markets. Short sellers have been flocking to these indexes to make bets against real estate, possibly driving their performance.

Actual delinquencies on commercial-mortgage bonds hit a record low of 0.27% in January, according to Fitch Ratings. Among 40,000 loans in these bonds, only 293 were delinquent last month. The most bearish market prognosticators predict defaults on commercial mortgages will reach 2% over the next year or so, in line with the historical range. By comparison, the performance of the CMBX implies the default rate could be four times that level, according to analysts. "The level we're seeing in the CMBX right now just doesn't make sense," says Lisa Pendergast, managing director for RBS Greenwich Capital in Greenwich, Conn.

The CMBX began trading in March 2006. It tracks the performance of commercial-real-estate bonds with different credit ratings, ranging from triple-A to double-B. Portions of the index have more than tripled this year, indicating soaring perceptions of risk.

The index itself has become one of the most popular ways to make bets on the outlook for real estate, and also to hedge against a downturn. Investors can make bets through derivatives instruments called credit-default swaps. Owners of these swaps get paid when defaults rise -- the same way that an owner of an insurance policy gets paid when a storm damages his house.

The annual cost of insuring against default on a $10 million bundle of triple-A rated commercial-real-estate-backed bonds had risen from $65,000 in early January to more than $212,000 last week, but a rally of the CMBX this week had reduced the cost to about $180,000 yesterday, according to Citigroup Inc. analyst Darrell Wheeler.

While trading in these derivatives has soared, it has dried up in actual commercial-real-estate bonds, making it harder to determine what the bonds are worth.

Some banks are using the CMBX to determine the size of write-downs on the values of their holdings, even though the underlying properties are still generating cash.

Don Truslow, chief risk officer for Wachovia Corp., one of the nation's largest commercial lenders, said in a Jan. 22 earnings call that the CMBX "has been a large part of the reason for the write-downs and the market marks that we have taken" -- $600 million in the fourth quarter -- even though the bank hadn't seen any material deterioration in the properties or loans themselves. The poor performance of the CMBX, in turn, might be making it even harder for commercial borrowers to get access to credit in an already tight lending environment.

God Bless The Greedy Fuck Capitalists Our Leaders Enable, Support, Coddle And Tolerate

One recent morning, dozens of elderly and disabled people, some propped on walkers and canes, gathered at Small Loans Inc. Many had borrowed money from Small Loans and turned over their Social Security benefits to pay back the high-interest lender. Now they were waiting for their "allowance" -- their monthly check, minus Small Loans' cut.

See more maps showing how storefront lenders have targeted recipients of government benefits.
The crowd represents the newest twist for a fast-growing industry -- lenders that make high-interest loans, often called "payday" loans, that are secured by upcoming paychecks. Such lenders are increasingly targeting recipients of Social Security and other government benefits, including disability and veteran's benefits. "These people always get paid, rain or shine," says William Harrod, a former manager of payday loan stores in suburban Virginia and Washington, D.C. Government beneficiaries "will always have money, every 30 days."

The law bars the government from sending a recipient's benefits directly to lenders. But many of these lenders are forging relationships with banks and arranging for prospective borrowers to have their benefits checks deposited directly into bank accounts. The banks immediately transfer government funds to the lenders. The lender then subtracts debt repayments, plus fees and interest, before giving the recipients a dime.

As a result, these lenders, which pitch loans with effective annual interest as high as 400% or more, can gain almost total control over Social Security recipients' finances.

There are no publicly available statistics on the proportion of payday loans that are backed by Social Security and other government benefits. But dozens of legal-aid lawyers, senior service groups and credit counselors across the country say they are seeing more and more clients on Social Security struggling with multiple payday loans.

The Treasury Department, charged with ensuring that Social Security payments reach beneficiaries, says privacy rules forbid it from monitoring recipients' bank accounts without cause. Social Security Administration officials say the agency isn't responsible for benefits once paid out and that beneficiaries who run into problems should consult an attorney.

An analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows many payday lenders are clustered around government-subsidized housing for seniors and the disabled. The research was done by Steven Graves, a geographer at California State University at Northridge, at The Wall Street Journal's request. His previous work was cited by the Department of Defense in its effort to cap the amounts lenders can charge military personnel.

Audrey Miller, a disabled woman in Cleveland, Va., is one of a growing number of Social Security recipients who have become victims of predatory lenders. WSJ's Ellen Schultz explains why.
Lenders say they provide a useful service. "This industry provides convenient access to small amounts of money," said Tommy Moore, executive vice president of the Community Financial Services Association of America, which says it represents about 60% of payday loan stores. "It certainly wouldn't be right for the business to discriminate against them for whatever the source of their income is."

But some industry critics say fixed-income borrowers are not only more reliable, they are also more lucrative. Often elderly or disabled, they are typically dependent on smaller fixed incomes and are rarely able to pay off their loans quickly. "It's not like they can work more hours," says David Rothstein, an analyst at Policy Matters Ohio, an economic research group in Cleveland. "They're trapped."

Mr. Harrod was a manager of a Check 'n Go store across the street from Fort Lincoln Senior Citizen's Village, a subsidized-housing complex for the elderly and disabled in Washington, D.C. Mr. Harrod says he was encouraged by his supervisors to recruit the elderly, and did so by often eating his lunch on nearby benches to strike up conversations with the complex's residents. According to Mr. Graves's analysis, there are at least four payday lenders within a mile-and-a-half of Fort Lincoln.

Mr. Harrod quit his job in August over concerns that the company exploited its customers and targeted vulnerable groups and began working with groups seeking limits on payday lending.

Yancy Deering, a spokesman for Check 'n Go, a unit of closely held Ohio-based CNG Holdings Inc., which has more than 1,300 stores nationwide, confirms Mr. Harrod's tenure but says the company doesn't target the elderly. He adds the company doesn't track what proportion of customers depend on government benefits.

Social Security recipients weren't always a natural market for payday lenders, which typically require borrowers to have a bank account and a regular source of income. For years, a large percentage of government beneficiaries lacked traditional bank accounts, choosing to just cash their checks instead.

But by the late 1990s, the federal government began requiring that Social Security beneficiaries receive their benefits by electronic deposit to a bank account, unless they opt out. The number of recipients with direct deposit soared to more than 80% today, up from 56% in 1996. Citing taxpayer savings and greater security and convenience for recipients, the government is making a fresh push to get the remaining holdouts to participate.

With direct deposit, Social Security recipients could now more easily pledge their future checks as collateral for small short-term loans. Oliver Hummel, a Billings, Mont., resident with schizophrenia, lived on the $1,013 a month in Social Security disability benefits he received by direct deposit to his bank account. Early last year, after his car broke down and his 13-year-old terrier racked up a big vet bill, Mr. Hummel borrowed $200 from a local lender.

Like many payday borrowers, Mr. Hummel realized he couldn't pay off the loan when it was due so he went to another "payday" lender. Lenders rarely ask about other loans and debt, and borrowers often take out multiple loans in an effort to avoid defaulting. By February, Mr. Hummel had eight loans from eight lenders, at effective annual interest rates that ranged from 180% to 406%.

The industry mushroomed in the 1990s and continues to prosper. Analysts estimate that payday loan volume has climbed to about $48 billion a year from about $13.8 billion in 1999. Most payday lenders are small and privately held. The biggest publicly traded company is Advance America Cash Advance Centers Inc., based in Spartanburg, S.C., with 2,900 stores in three dozen states and reported earnings of $42.9 million in the first nine months of 2007.

'Buckwheat' Bevels

In November 2002, when Melvin Bevels was short of money for groceries and rent, the elderly man visited a Small Loans store in Sylacauga, Ala., and borrowed money -- he thinks it was $200. Small Loans is part of a sprawling network of more than a hundred lenders in four states, including Georgia, Florida and Louisiana, owned by Money Tree Inc., a closely held Bainbridge, Ga., firm.


• Mr. Bevels's bank statement2 shows that every time the U.S. Treasury deposited his Social Security check, the bank transferred the benefits to the Money Tree, a high-interest storefront lender.
Mr. Bevels, who can't read, says a clerk helped him fill out papers that instructed Social Security to send Mr. Bevels's $565 monthly benefits to an account at an out-of-state bank, which transferred the money back to Small Loans or its parent, usually within a day. As is often the case, Mr. Bevels's bank earned no interest and didn't come with either ATM cards or checks.

Every month for nearly four years, Mr. Bevels, who is known around town as "Buckwheat" because of his thatch of yellow-white hair, rode his motorized mobility scooter to Small Loans to pick up his "allowance," which was sometimes as little as $180 a month, he says.

In a written statement, Money Tree's general counsel, Natasha Wood, declined to comment on Mr. Bevels's case but said: "Anyone who sets up a direct deposit arrangement with Small Loans Inc. does so completely voluntarily."

Mr. Bevels, who believes he's 80 but isn't sure, quickly lost control of his finances. When his utilities were shut off, a neighbor gave Mr. Bevels water in a plastic jug and ran an extension cord to Mr. Bevels's trailer a few hours a day to power his nebulizer, which delivers aerosol medication to people with chronic lung conditions. Mr. Bevels was facing eviction when his trailer burned down, leaving him homeless.

A county social worker arranged for Mr. Bevels to move to public housing and got his Social Security benefits redirected to a local bank. When Small Loans sued Mr. Bevels for repayment in small-claims court in Talladega County, Ala., a legal-aid attorney headed to court. The judge threw out the case when the lender failed to appear with documentation for the loan.

"It just isn't fair, what they do to old people," says Mr. Bevels, crying quietly. "It isn't right."

Ms. Wood, the lawyer for Small Loans, said in her statement: "Small Loans Inc. does not file suit against anyone because they move their direct deposit service elsewhere."

No regulatory agency tracks how much Social Security money is going to lenders as repayment for payday loans. A 2006 study by the Consumer Federation of America found that one-fifth of those without conventional bank accounts are receiving their government benefit checks through nonbanks, including payday lenders that also operate as check-cashing stores.

Social Security recipients are supposed to enjoy more protections than other borrowers: Federal law says that creditors can't seize Social Security benefits to repay debts. Small Loans and two banks with which it has partnered say their arrangements don't violate any laws. But critics say such arrangements effectively thwart the intention of the law. Social Security recipients can not only lose their benefits, but face lawsuits, harassment and even jail.

Jailed in Clayton

In December 2006, Jennifer Rumph, a disabled single mother of three, went to Miracle Finance Inc. to buy her children a computer for Christmas. She picked a laptop from the store's catalog and the Miracle Finance clerk said it would cost a little over $600, Ms. Rumph recalls. Some lenders have catalogs of merchandise and lend money to make the purchase. In the end, the loan came to $1,326, which included principal, interest and a fee for insurance that would pay off the loan to the lender if Ms. Rumph died, according to loan paperwork.


These three documents show how far Miracle Loans went to collect money from Social Security recipient Jennifer Rumph, who fell behind on her payments:
• The lender went to court and obtained a default judgment3 against Mrs. Rumph.
• Mrs. Rumph was ordered to appear in court4 to demonstrate what kinds of property she had that could be seize to pay the debt to Miracle Loans.
• When Mrs. Rumph failed to appear, an arrest warrant5 was issued, and she was jailed.
The company had Ms. Rumph, 43, sign documents directing her teenage son's Social Security disability check, which is $623 a month, to the company by way of an intermediary bank -- a condition for getting the loan, she says. The Social Security Administration says it doesn't have a problem with lenders capturing Social Security checks of disabled or orphaned children as long as the benefits money ultimately goes to the "current needs" of the child.

Like Mr. Bevels, Ms. Rumph didn't receive an ATM card or a checkbook. Each month she would go to Miracle Finance 30 miles away in Abbeville, Ala., to pick up what remained of her son Jeremiah's benefits after the company subtracted fees, interest and loan repayments, usually leaving her with less than $300 of her son's check.

Ms. Rumph, whose medical problems include severe asthma and two hip replacements, was unable to pay her bills on that amount. Much of the $623-a-month in disability benefits she receives for herself was going to a nearby Small Loans store to repay a different loan. She tried to return the computer, but a Miracle Finance employee said it wouldn't reduce her debt, and then the computer stopped working this summer, she recalls.

In the following months, Ms. Rumph says she asked Social Security several times to redirect her son's check to her mailbox, but to little avail.

Attorneys for Legal Services Alabama, whom Ms. Rumph ultimately contacted, say that each time she tried to cancel the arrangement, the company appears to have resubmitted her original direct-deposit paperwork, which Social Security honored despite her efforts to cancel it.

A Social Security spokeswoman says that when beneficiaries cancel direct-deposit arrangements with the agency, they should also contact the bank that had been receiving the check. Ms. Rumph says she never knew the identity of the bank receiving her son's Social Security benefits.

After Ms. Rumph fell behind on her payments, Miracle Finance sued her in small-claims court in Abbeville, Ala. Although federal law says creditors can't seize Social Security, disability and veteran's benefits to pay a debt, enforcement of the law is scant, and many Social Security recipients are unaware of their legal rights. Lenders and their debt collectors routinely sue Social Security recipients who fall behind in their payments, and threaten them with criminal prosecution, senior advocates say.

Debtors must go to court to prove their case. Ms. Rumph says she didn't know any of this and was afraid to go to court. Miracle Finance won a $1,500 default judgment in July, and four days later sought a court order requiring Ms. Rumph to appear in person to detail her income and assets.

After Ms. Rumph failed to appear at two hearings at Miracle Finance's request, a judge ordered a warrant for her arrest.

In November, Miracle Finance kept the full amount of Jeremiah Rumph's disability check. Ms. Rumph fell behind on her $300-a-month rent for her mobile home and faced eviction. After she was unable to pay utility bills, her electricity was turned off briefly the day before Thanksgiving.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, as she was getting ready for church, two sheriff's deputies came to Ms. Rumph's home, handcuffed her in front of her children and hauled her away. Ms. Rumph spent several hours in jail until an uncle paid the court $1,500. Miracle Finance didn't respond to numerous requests for comment.

A judge last week said Miracle Finance couldn't force Ms. Rumph to pay the debt because her Social Security income is protected under federal law. But she still owes more than $5,000 on loans from almost a dozen other lenders. "I want to pay them back," she says. "I can't."